Entertainment Movies Seeing Star Wars now is a lot different than when it first came out 40 years ago Star Wars ushered in a new movie-going experience. Now, it’s bringing the community back to the theater Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post Jessy Pace of Chewbacca, center, captured by Sara Gurnett of Darth Revan, left, and Tori Smith of TIE pilot at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Denver. Star wars fans celebrate opening day of the last Jedi on December 14, 2017. By Danika Worthington | firstname.lastname@example.org | The Denver Post December 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm Patrick Gillies was an 11-year-old science fiction lover living in a medium-sized town in Texas when the first “Star Wars” movie opened in 1977.
He and his brother were swept up in the hype. Even though there weren’t sure what the film was about, they knew they needed to see it. The boys begged and begged their grandmother to take them until she acquiesced, taking off work.
“When we got to the theater, and there was a line, she didn’t know how to process that,” he recalled. “She had never experienced that — people would stand in line to see a movie?”
But they waited. And when the film ended, Gillies remembers experiencing an audience applaud for the first time.
For fans like Gillies — now a member of local Star Wars costuming groups 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and Mandalorian Mercs — Star Wars was a phenomenon.
It ushered in a new era of movies, one of summer blockbusters and franchises powerful enough that people waited in lines, returning again and again, because they couldn’t catch the movie on cable or VHS six months later. Standing in line was not only a necessity but a gamble — people didn’t know if they would get in.
Star Wars also helped create the fandom culture, which, 40 years later, with the release of “Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi,” is helping to revive the communal spirit of movie theaters.
Theaters have changed since 1977. People can buy their tickets online and choose a seat in advance. Stadium seating means you don’t run the risk of staring at the back of someone’s head. Visual and audio improvements mean most theaters have the capability of offering a high-level experience. Meanwhile, Gillies can watch the original movie in his basement, where the sound and visual quality is much better than he experienced in the theater in Texas.
Theaters have also experienced horrors as mass shootings shocked Colorado and the nation, prompting exhibitors to start banning elements of costumes — such as blaster guns and masks — that people like to wear to premieres. (Masks are banned for another reason: Exhibitors need to check IDs when people purchase alcohol, yet another change.)
Meanwhile, a proliferation of screens — home theaters, televisions, computers and phones — and an increase of quality content providers, like Netflix, HBO and Amazon, are competing for audiences’ attention. People just don’t need to go to theaters.
Longtime film critic Howie Movshovitz, a University of Colorado Denver professor and director of the Denver Silent Film Festival, recalled going to a press screening of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” in 1977.
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” ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jaws,’ they both came out pretty close to each other,” he said. “They changed the business model for Hollywood films. From some points of views, like mine, they’re the villains because they turned Hollywood financing toward blockbusters and away from steady, more reliable, generally higher-quality productions.”
Along the way, public life has been cheapened, Movshovitz said. People spend time at home on the internet and are out of practice when they’re out in society. (Gillies, on the other hand, said he thinks people’s online isolation makes them seek out more community experiences.)
With less competition in the entertainment world, Movshovitz said, there was a greater sense of shared culture. Additionally, movie theaters have turned toward functionality and convenience.
“The moviegoing experience is degraded,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thinks of it as really special anymore, like a night out. ‘Wow, hey, we’re going to go to a movie.’ ”
Many would agree with Movshovitz that chatting and phone use have cheapened the moviegoing experience. Among them are Walter Chaw, vice president of operations for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Denver, and Rodney Buxton, a University of Denver associate professor.
(Some theaters have cracked down on those rulebreakers. At Alamo Drafthouse, for example, people are escorted out — without a refund — if they’re caught using cellphones or chatting.)
Still, some things remain the same.
The escapism the Star Wars series provides is still needed, Buxton said. In the 70’s, the country was going through the Cold War and the fear of nuclear bombs was acute. Now, he said, it’s Russia, the Taliban and sexual harassment that weigh on people.
Although Gillies still lines up with friends for the fun of it — he went to Los Angeles for the “The Last Jedi” premiere Saturday and was planning to hit the Denver opening Thursday night — many moviegoers don’t experience that type of camaraderie these days. But movie theaters are working to create a different sort of community, organizing events around the premiere. For example, Alamo Drafthouse has stormtroopers and a local nerd band performing ahead of its showings.
And many still seek out the immersion of the theater. They want to react with others. They want the big screen and loud sound. And for some movies — particularly ones with emotional heft — people don’t want the option to pause and walk away, Gillies said.
“When you look over and realize you’re not the only one with a tear in your eye, that takes it from being a personal experience to a community experience,” he said.
And for many, watching a Star Wars movie is a ticket to the past.
The original Star Wars movie was the first motion picture Alamo Drafthouse’s Chaw saw in a theater. He couldn’t speak English at the time, but he knew he wanted to be Luke Skywalker — “which was tough for a Chinese kid,” he said. The film created a moviegoing culture for his family.
“What’s interesting about all these new Star Wars, every time the logo comes up and the theme music starts, I cry — and I’m not a big crier,” Chaw said. “It transports me back to when I was 4 years old and the world was in front of me.”